Marketer’s Edge Interview With Joe Wood: Operating In An Ultra-Competitive Market

In this episode of Marketer’s Edge, brought to you by our sister company, RSW/AgencySearch, the discussion focuses on the consumer shopping experience and what it’s like operating in an ultra-competitive market.

If your agency pursues retail, grocery, or specialty food, this is worth a watch.

It’s rare as an agency that you get to hear perspective from marketers other than your clients, and so we bring you this series in an effort to help you build your agency’s business development strategy and get a front row seat into the marketer’s mind.

You can also see our video series 3 Takeaways here. It’s our agency new business video series where we focus on one new business category and give you three takeaways to help improve your new business program.

Why Advertising Agencies Should Watch This Episode:

  • Joe gives advice to any agency trying to knock down his door and win his business.
  • He talks what it’s like operating in an ultra-competitive market. against major national grocery retail brands.
  • Joe compares the consumer shopping experience now – to the marketplace pre-pandemic.
  • Joe talks what he looks for when shopping for new marketing service help.

Sendik’s is a specialty food market that has been serving the greater Milwaukee community since 1926.

Sendik’s combines quality food products with exceptional customer service. Their goal is to provide the best grocery shopping experience, period. Currently, Sendik’s operates 17 stores throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.

Joe Wood, the Chief Marketing Officer at Sendik’s Food Market in Wisconsin.

A little bit about Joe:

Joe is an innovative Marketing professional with demonstrated success in driving profitable sales in the retail channel.

Success milestones for Joe include increasing market share in competitive trade areas, orchestrating new retail pricing concepts, designing a CRM loyalty platform, and developing revenue-generating advertising and promotional programs.


If you’re looking for a more effective business development strategy, email Lee McKnight Jr., VP of Sales at RSW/US at

Learn more about our outsourced business development programs here.

Learn more about our process here.

Agency New Business Director Tenure Surprisingly Declines, Even As Success Grows

The new business director position at an agency: tough to hire for and tough to do-it is sales after all, and we know it as well as anyone after 17 years of helping agencies drive new business. 

From our 2021 Agency New Business Report: hiring for the new business director position at agencies is down, and tenure remains unchanged for roughly the last decade, yet agencies report their last new business hire as relatively successful.

I’ll start with an initial stat:

Only 32% of agencies hired a new business director in the past 3 years. 

That’s the lowest level since we started this survey in 2010.

COVID invariably plays a part in this result.

Over the past year and a half, agencies were either scrapping to stay afloat or slammed with work – both not conducive to hiring for the new business position.

And it’s been harder to hire across the board in this market as well. 

Let’s keep going, and throw out our next stat:

The average tenure of an agency new business director: 22% said less than a year, and 52% said 1-2 years. 

As COVID hit, we quickly, and unfortunately, saw many new business directors at agencies lose their positions. 

These were individuals who found success through in-person networking, conferences, and local/regional outside selling.

When everything shut down and these individuals could no longer rely on their network, or inperson selling, it became evident that inside sales was not their strong suit. 

But let’s throw a wrinkle into this with a third stat:

60% of agencies report their last new business hire was very to somewhat successful. 

It’s strange that a fair number of agencies report success with their new business director, yet only see them stick around for a year or two, or less. 

We’ve found that new business director hires that are successful tend to jump around, unfortunately, which partly accounts for the 18-month decadelong tenure average. 

What else accounts for it? 

Agencies tend to hire for the wrong reasons, for a network that gets tapped out, they hire cheap, they’ll “figure it out”, or “we can train them” (which is rare, or at best, haphazard).  

Through the last couple of years, we’ve spoken with agencies who came through the pandemic with the understanding that a new business hire had to have a more balanced skill set, which included strong inside selling skills.

With new business apparently being easier to come by in 2021 (per our report) via existing clients, agencies are not pressed to hire for the new business director role.

But, as we mention in our report, one thing that can always be counted on in our industry is change and the cyclical nature of the industry as a whole.

Agencies should be prepared, as they head into 2022, for organic growth to settle, and for hiring to normalize, and make plans for pursuing new business, however it’s done, whether through hiring internally or outsourcing it to a firm like RSW or others out there.


Darren Magarro, President and Founder of DSM, was kind enough to comment on my LinkedIn post of this blog, and I wanted to share our initial back and forth-solid points:

Agency New Business Director Tenure Surprisingly Declines, Even As Success Grows

Referrals Are Fantastic But Can't Be The Sole Source Of Your Business Development Pipeline

This article, Referrals Are Fantastic But Can’t Be The Sole Source Of Your Business Development Pipeline, is part of our Destination RSW Summer Blog Series, designed to help you navigate the hazards encountered on the road to new business.

We’ll have new challenges featured throughout the summer, so be sure to check back in each week for a look at the latest content!

This post is from our VP of Sales, Lee McKnight Jr.

It’s no surprise that agencies typically rank referrals so highly as a lead generator.

You do great work and referrals (can) follow.

It’s a lot easier than an ongoing new business program, right?

New business is hard — hard to maintain, hire for, and keep up consistently.

And, let’s be honest, agencies typically aren’t very adept at it.

So referrals become the default new business option, which is not a bad thing.

If your agency doesn’t have a process in place to drive referrals, you need to implement that — yesterday.

Having said that, you simply cannot rely on referrals alone to build and grow your agency.

I know there are agencies that will contradict me on this saying, “It’s working for us.”

I say that’s fantastic, and you’re doing that part of it right — but you rely on them at your peril.

There are several reasons why:

1) Referrals aren’t necessarily the right type of client.

For several reasons this could be true (wrong fit, too small, no budget), and you could find your team spending time on the wrong types of work.

2) Referrals are not a consistent and scalable source of new business.

Just as your agency experiences certain lulls given the nature of your clients’ businesses, referrals function in the same way.

3) If you’re a small- to mid-sized agency, larger agencies are going after what they didn’t use to.

It’s a trend that’s gained momentum, which means those referrals you’re relying on have a better chance of slowing, or drying up altogether.

4) Agencies continue to get more aggressive when it comes to new business.

In our own survey reports, 86% of respondents say they’re getting more aggressive in their outbound and inbound activity.

To be fair, I take this one with a grain of salt, as agencies, bless them, tend to come out of the new business gate like gangbusters and lose steam rather quickly.

Not a knock at all, but it tends to be true.

However, it’s all about balance and scale.

Clients have to come first, of course. But you need a blend of referrals, outbound, and inbound that you can manage.

There’s a reason insurance exists — if you’re crushing it on the referral front, look at the outbound/inbound component as your insurance policy; it’s not the easiest part, but it’s absolutely necessary to your success.

And your business development pipeline will thank you for it.


When agencies are considering our services, one of the first questions I typically ask is how they’ve handled new business and acquiring prospect meetings in the past, and are currently handling it.

One response I often get when an agency is considering a change, in regards to past performance: “we had someone internally but the prospect meetings didn’t go anywhere.”

If this describes your current new business program, you need to think about what that really means, because there are several, brief stages of analysis you should subject your current meetings to.

Obviously if you feel the meetings from your new business program, whoever is handling it-you, a new business director, a team, etc, “aren’t going anywhere”, a change needs to be made.

But that change can take a few different paths, and could be a simple tweak, or a sizeable change.

The first place to start, perhaps unsurprisingly, is asking,

Why you think prospect meetings are going nowhere

While new business, as in life, is rarely black and white, sometimes it is, and in certain scenarios, you need to make a clean break.

That clean break may be:

–Changing your new business director: they’re too junior, don’t know how to sell marketing services, aren’t the right fit or aren’t representing you the way he/she should be

–Dissolving the internal new business team: In our experience, rarely does a new business team work.  There are exceptions of course, and ideally the whole agency contributes to new business in some way, but there’s a reason for the expression, “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

–Taking the responsibility off the agency principal in charge of new business: This scenario, again, can work, but it’s extremely difficult with everything else she/he has to do.

There’s the black and white, but in most situations, there will be grayer shades, and before you discount the meetings coming in, you have to ask these questions:

 1) Are your prospects the right fit?

I mean in terms of geography, size (revenue), sector and title.

If not, you need to reevaluate who you’re going after.

 2) Who’s taking that first prospect meeting?

Whoever it is-you, a new business director, team member-are they the right person?

For example, are they asking questions relative to the prospect’s business?

3) What are your expectations and are they realistic?

Presupposing your prospects are the right fit, what are you expecting out of a first meeting?

Here’s a baseline I’d suggest, unless something else has specifically been put on the agenda: they have a high level of interest in who you are and how you can help them and they want to talk.

Anything more from a first meeting and you need to recalibrate expectations.

Neither you or anyone else can manufacture an opportunity, timing truly is everything.

Which goes hand-in-hand with. . .

4) Are you following up?

This is the new business “classic,” if you will.

I’ve heard it many times-a meeting actually goes pretty well, but according to the agency “it went nowhere” because the prospect never got back to them.

I leave you with three words:

That’s your job.

Our 3 Takeaways episode, 3 Ways To Break Through To Your Oversaturated Prospects, focuses on how digitally saturated your prospects are today-how much more competitive noise surrounds them than ever before.

Agency new business, and sales generally, has always been about getting your prospect’s attention in a meaningful way.

COVID has isolated many of your prospects, and while there are, in theory, less interruptions during the workday at home, it’s caused all of us to, arguably, work harder and longer.

And for those prospects with children, it adds another layer.

So-point being, your prospects are constantly surrounded by distractions, by noise (literally and figuratively).  And it doesn’t go away after the first meeting or conversation – agencies often forget this.

A stat from one of our reports:

69% Of Agencies Say It’s Tougher To Break Through To Prospects.

There are many reasons for this, besides all the noise – agency positioning that doesn’t resonate, a lack of specialization, lack of consistency in the effort, and there’s more to the list.

But back to the noise: it’s not just your competition – it’s other companies and vendors vying for their business, their daily workload, their personal lives-most agencies don’t really think about the scope of all this noise and how much of it surrounds their prospects.

And don’t think just because it’s a referral that the noise goes away.

And so from this, another stat is apropos:

69% Of Agencies Say It’s Tougher To Break Through To Prospects.

There are many reasons for this, besides all the noise – agency positioning that doesn’t resonate, a lack of specialization, lack of consistency in the effort, and there’s more to the list.

But back to the noise: it’s not just your competition – it’s other companies and vendors vying for their business, their daily workload, their personal lives-most agencies don’t really think about the scope of all this noise and how much of it surrounds their prospects.

And don’t think just because it’s a referral that the noise goes away.

And so from this, another stat is apropos:

53% of marketers say agencies are not sufficiently aggressive following up after a meeting.

I’m curious, does that stat surprise you? It surprised me. I understand the trepidation, I deal it with it myself, you don’t want to pester your prospects to the point they shut you down.

A real-life example of this in action – a comment an agency principal made to our owner Mark.

This principal said he got exasperated with salespeople who didn’t stay with him after a good initial interaction, going on to say “We had a good meeting and then, as always, I get slammed. The salesperson left a voicemail or two, maybe an email and then he gave up.”

Agencies absolutely do the same thing, or don’t follow up at all.

So how to combat all the noise? 

Certainly, it’s with some level of thought leadership content, an SEO strategy, and/or referrals, to name a few.

But prospecting has to play a part, and you have to remember this:

Use every channel in concert with each other.

It’s one of our mantras here at RSW, working with our agency clients.

And more specifically, use those channels in uncluttered spaces.

Sure, you’re going to use email and LinkedIn-but I’ve talked previously about the efficacy of snail mail. (And yes, it’s a more strategic process as many still work from home right now.)

Another uncluttered channel is the phone.

Sure it’s still used, but agencies don’t typically have the time, the talent or the inclination to do it.

Old school-sure, but it’s being used less and less, think about how often you get actual calls, or maybe I should say, effective calls – that’s an opportunity for your agency.

So keep in mind that this noise exists: stay consistent, stay patient, and follow up appropriately.